This island, Seattle: Happily out of step with the state and the nation

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Seattle is not on a physical island, but we understand islandness. We’re surrounded by islands. We commute from them. Bainbridge, Whidbey, Mercer, Vashon — these all lie within the city’s greater realm. Our hilly neighborhoods create virtual islands that hover above the fog.

Islands are states of mind, but also political realities.

This week’s election reinforced that feeling of separation. Tim Eyman’s I-1366 — which might have well been numbered for the year its feudal politics represent — is passing statewide. It extorts the state Legislature by threatening to cut the sales tax unless lawmakers put forward a state constitutional amendment instituting a requirement that all tax and fee increases must be passed with a two-thirds majority.

What ever happened to majority rule? Who made supermajorities king? How is it, asks state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, that a simple majority vote can make a supermajority master?

The voters of the state consistently like the idea — they've passed variations on this before, only to have them rebuffed by the courts — but not here. I-1366 is passing everywhere in the state but King, Jefferson and San Juan counties (the latter two Seattle retirement communities) and Thurston county, the seat of state government, aka Eyman’s Big Bad.

We might feel alone, but we are full of island pride. Others eschew taxes, but Seattleites can't wait to tax themselves for the public good, a fact mayor Ed Murray loves to tout as proof of our truly unique progressive commitment.

Seattle’s Prop. 1 seems to be passing handily, contrary to pre-election rumors that had it losing badly. It’s a nearly $1 billion tax hike for transportation fixes. Seattle Transportation Department head Scott Kubly says its success is proof of Seattle’s optimism. I think it just proves how desperate we are about getting around. Talk to the city council candidates and they’ll tell you transportation was the No. 1 issue on people’s minds.

Seattle is a mess. Lots of growth, too many simultaneous mega-projects, most delayed or over-budget. And basics ignored. Murray says the first thing they’ll spend money on is sidewalks, especially sidewalks around schools. This isn’t 21st century optimism or flying cars, it’s taking care of the basics. It’s doing stuff that should have been done long ago. It’s fixing, mending, catching-up on the wear and tear.

Islanders have to be self-sufficient. No one said independence didn’t have a price.

Seattle has also passed an ambitious election reform plan, I-122, the so-called “Honest Elections” initiative that moves us a step closer to public financing with a “Democracy voucher” system that will give regular folks a chance to contribute to campaigns using taxpayer money. It’s the first of its kind in the nation. We are willing to experiment, to implement ideas that address locally problems that are national in scope.

No great surprise, perhaps: Seattle has been at the forefront of progressive change with national influence: climate change, marijuana legalization, gay marriage, $15 minimum wage.

And it looks like we just re-elected a socialist, proving that wasn’t a onetime deal.

After presidential candidate John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, the Stranger published a ranting lament (if that’s not a contradiction) about the “blue archipelago” of liberal outlier urban centers — dots of blue in a vast red sea. Around that same time, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels joked at a City Club event about the city seceding from the state.

The national picture this election week reinforces the sense that we’re an island out of the mainstream. Ohio defeated legal marijuana, civil rights for sexual minorities took a step back in Houston, a Trump-like gubernatorial candidate flipped Kentucky from the Democrat to Republican column, threatening health care reform in that state.

The endless GOP presidential debates reinforce a national brand to which Seattle sees itself as the antidote. If you don’t like what’s happening in Trump’s or Carson's America, we’ll take those of you yearning to breathe free.

In many ways, island Seattle has seceded without going to war, except at the ballot box.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.